For six years, the De Colores Festival has been a development platform for the Latin-Canadian community’s hottest theatrical talent. This year’s undertaking features two queer playwrights: Chilean expat Bruce Gibbons and Costa Rican-born, Ottawa-raised Jefferson Guzman. Both artists turn to the past for inspiration. Guzman’s Solaz is based on the 1968 death of his uncle at the hands of a drunk driver. Set in 1977, Gibbons’s Paradise Red is a soap opera–esque tale of a family’s dark secrets unravelling after their father (a general in the Chilean military) dies unexpectedly.
Xtra: What inspired you to write this piece?
Guzman: My uncle’s death really destroyed my mother’s family. I never met him, but I wanted him to be remembered. I grew up hearing so many different perspectives on what happened. The material was so dramatic and emotionally raw, I’d planned on writing something based on it for over a decade. It finally felt like it was time to do it.
Gibbons: Before arriving in Canada and starting work in English, I’d never gotten deep into my biography in my writing. But I took a playwriting workshop earlier this year where we working with memory, and I realized the power of going back to what made you who you are now. I wanted to write something about my country but with a deliciously incorrect twist. Originally, it was a play about a family of vampires in the Chilean dictatorship. I scrapped that part, but the characters still have a vampirelike quality to them. It ended up being a playful, campy, telenovela-like look at a Chilean military family.
Are there any particular challenges to coming out in a Latino family?
Guzman: I was out to my family in Canada, but I believed my family in Costa Rica would never accept me. The year I turned 30, I decided I wanted to be in the country where I was born for my birthday. I went back with my partner but told him I didn’t want anyone to know we were together; we were just “friends.” By the end of the trip, my family were pulling me aside telling me they loved me no matter what and they loved my partner as part of our family as well. I never really had to come out to them. I got to just be myself and allow them to catch up.
Gibbons: Latinos live under huge Catholic values, and their views on society reflect this. There’s also a very chauvinistic culture that even a lot of women embrace. Coming out can be very complicated, though things are slowly getting better. Coming out to your family is not the same as coming out to the community. The latter is something not everyone does; I sure didn’t. There’s so much discrimination. It’s bad business.
The pieces are still in development and being presented in a workshop format, rather than a full production. Why should audiences check out this early part of the process?
Guzman: Readings are often excerpts of the full work, meaning the audience just gets a taste of what’s to come. It’s an exciting experience to watch a play through its development process and also for audiences to have a role in that process by giving feedback to the writer.
Gibbons: Seeing a play in workshop means you’re in front of something very raw. I’ve seen readings that are actually more interesting than full productions. There’s something intimate and beautiful about them, like a first encounter with a new love.